Newman University celebrated with graduates and their families and friends Saturday, May 11, at Central Community Church in Wichita, Kansas.
Undergraduate and graduate program degrees were presented to the 2018-19 graduates during two separate ceremonies.
More than 480 associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees were presented to Newman University graduates. Though their stories and journies differ, the Newman experience itself seemed to be a similar one — the feeling of a close community and family environment.
Kyndal Dutton, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing major, said the work ethic at Newman helped her sharpen and the friendships she created were two things she would take with her through life.
“You make really good friends, especially this last semester,” said Dutton. “We all got really close because we’ve all been through it. We all know what it’s like, and we all support each other and depend on each other.”
Marilyn Nguyen, a biology major, said the Asian Student Association along with the teachers at Newman are what she will always remember.
“They’ve grown into a family,” Nguyen explained. “The (teachers and students) provided me a place of love and acceptance. That has been one of my biggest takeaway: The teachers … supporting me even when I didn’t want to myself.”
Biology major Kenneth Santiago said the size of Newman is what made the university feel like a family to him.
“It’s just a very tight-knit community and it’s really helpful that it’s a small school and the professors really get to know you,” he said.
Santiago added that “meeting my best friends, spending time with the students here, studying or playing piano, playing ping pong — just being students” are just a few of the memories he will carry with him.
The undergraduate ceremony, which took place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 11, honored more than 300 graduates.
The ceremony included the conferral of an honorary degree, the presentation of the Ablah Awards and the awarding of degrees. Among those traditional pieces, a speech is traditionally given by the current Newman University Teaching Excellence Award recipient.
This year, the 2019 Teaching Excellence Award recipient was awarded posthumously to Suzanne Berg, Ph.D.
In place of the traditional speech, a special commencement video inspired by Berg was introduced by 2018 alumna Delaney Hiegert.
She said coming back to her alma mater to introduce the video “was a great experience and I’m so happy that Newman took the time to honor her.
“And so I’m happy to be a part of it,” she continued. “I think that she would’ve said it with more pizzazz because she always does … but I think that was the essence of who she was, you know, daring, bold, caring. It really did encompass (the values) Suzanne lived her life by.”
Nicholas Griffin, an MBA graduate, said Berg was someone he respected because of her values.
“She was my advisor. She taught me to transform society like they all said. That was tough when we lost her, and I’m just trying to do what she did. I mean, if I can be like her, that’d be awesome.”
Each year, Newman awards an honorary degree to notable and accomplished members of the extended Newman community whose life and work reflect exemplary dedication to one of the university’s four Core Values: Catholic Identity, Culture of Service, Academic Excellence, and Global Perspective.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Long, Ph.D. said, “The degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, has been used by colleges and universities for centuries. … The tradition of an honorary degree is almost as old as academia itself.”
This year, Sister Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, was bestowed this honor for her dedication to Newman University and Catholic higher education along with her strong examples of the Catholic faith.
Sister Charlotte was a student at Sacred Heart College and joined Newman University’s founding order, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC) in 1959, professing her vows in 1961.
She has served as a history professor, academic dean, alumni director, campus ministry director, service learning director, study abroad director as well as interim president and chief operating officer.
Rohrbach talked to the graduates about special moments and relationships in life.
“My relationships over these years are truly treasured. Treasures ought to last a life time. Mine are. You have your communities, your relations — always treasure them.”
Each year, a special award is presented to a female and a male graduate who exemplify the mission and spirit of Newman University and who show great promise to make a strong and positive contribution to society.
The Ablah Awards were established by Fran and Geri (Ablah) Jabara to honor the memory of Geri’s parents Harvey J. and Leona J. Ablah and to perpetuate their vision of entrepreneurism and the American dream. Award recipients must have completed at least 62 credit hours at Newman and graduate with a grade point average of 3.2 or higher. Each student receives a $2,500 award.
The 2019 recipient of the Leona J. Ablah Award was Amy Emerson, an English and communication major graduating Summa Cum Laude. The recipient of the Harvey J. Ablah Award was Brandon Steiner, a biology major with a concentration in pre-chiropractic graduating Cum Laude.
Emerson said the people who “paved her path at Newman University” will always remain important to her.
“They built the foundation for me to be here and to be able to walk the stage and receive my education and I’m just so grateful for everybody who was part of that experience. My professors, my peers, my friends, teammates, coworkers, mentors, my family … there are just so many people to thank.”
Steiner said he was shocked and his heart was racing when he heard his name called as an Ablah Award recipient. He said his time at Newman won’t soon be forgotten.
“What a time, you know … it was a fantastic time with fantastic people, friends, faculty and peers. My goal is to return the favor. What Newman’s done for me, I hope to do for other incoming future students and the future of society.”
The Newman University Commencement for graduate students took place at 3 p.m., honoring 175 candidates for master’s degrees.
President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., congratulated the graduates after making it official with the conferring of the degrees.
During her closing remarks, Carrocci talked about the Newman Code and what it means to the Newman family. “It is a code we think applies to all members of the Newman family. Those who work at Newman, those who study at Newman, those who have graduate degrees as well as undergraduate degrees from Newman.”
Carrocci invited the graduates to recite the code with her and to remember to “refer to it from time to time to put yourself in the perspective of what it means to be a Newman University family member.”
She added, “I know to get these graduate degrees, you all have many other busy things in your lives. Maybe it’s a day job, maybe it’s taking care of six children … you have done an enormous task here — by completing your graduate degrees in the midst of your already busy lives. I salute you. I congratulate you.”
Photos from the ceremonies can be viewed on the Newman University Flickr page.